Before Farming

The Neanderthal dead

exploring mortuary variability in Middle Palaeolithic Eurasia

Before Farming (2002), 2002, (1), 1–26.

Abstract

Recent discussions about Neanderthal mortuary behaviour have tended to polarise around opinions that they did, or did not, bury their dead. Gargett, in particular, has forwarded a largely unconvincing critique of Neanderthal burial, but most scholars agree that at least some Neanderthals, at some times, treated the dead body. This article demonstrates that Neanderthal mortuary activity was a real phenomenon that requires exploration and interpretation and examines the nature and extent of variability in mortuary behaviour. In the later Middle Pleistocene Neanderthals may have been caching the dead in unmodified natural surroundings. After 70 ka BP some Neanderthal groups buried infants, or parts of them, in pits, infants and adults in shallow grave cuttings and indulged in primary corpse modification and subsequent burial. It may have been on occasion too that certain enclosed sites served as mortuary centres, and that their function as such was perpetuated in the memory of Neanderthal groups either through physical grave markers or social tradition. In all it would seem that at least in some Neanderthal groups the dead body was explored and treated in socially meaningful ways.

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Pettitt, Paul

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